As Paramount+ is gearing up for its splashy, star-studded UK and Ireland launch in London on Monday, Paramount’s Streaming President and CEO Tom Ryan spoke with Variety about the global expansion of the renowned company’s streaming business which, in addition to being powered by original content, stands out in the field for its diverse model.
This model involves a mix of platforms and partnerships, combining direct-to-consumer and à la carte offers with a market-by-market approach. The two main strands that set Paramount’s streaming offering apart are the combination of the rapidly growing premium Paramount+ offering and its free, ad-supported streaming service Pluto TV, which Ryan founded.
The global rollout will see Paramount + launching in 2023 in India in partnership with Viacom18, which recently landed the streaming rights to the Indian Premier League cricket tournament previously hosted by Disney+. First launching in Asia, Paramount+ debuted last week in South Korea as a free addition to the CJ ENM-controlled television platform.
Elsewhere in Europe, Paramount+ has set firm dates to launch its standalone streaming offering in Italy in September, in partnership with Sky; and in Germany, Switzerland, Austria and France in December, the latter in partnership with Canal+.
In terms of content, Paramount at the London launch announces plans to order 150 international originals by 2025 and announces its final orders from around the world, which include:
- “The First Lady of Sinaloa” (working title). A series on Emma Coronel, the married beauty queen of Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, Mexican drug kingpin and escape artist. John Leguizamo stars and produced in tandem with prominent Mexican producer Frida Torresblanco (“Pan’s Labyrinth”).
- “Murder of God’s banker.” A 4-part docuseries about the murder of fugitive Italian banker Roberto Calvi, known as “God’s Banker” due to his close ties to the Vatican, whose body was found hanged at London’s Blackfriars Bridge in 1982. The affair weaves together the mafia, the Roman Catholic Church and the world of international finance. Produced by New York-based CreativeChaos vmg.
- “The Sheikh”: Inspired by true events, this show tells the story of a con artist named Ringo, played by Björn Meyer (“Tatort”), who reinvents himself as the heir to an Arab fortune. It was created by the Swiss Dani Levy (“Go For Zucker”) who produced a duet with Johannes Naber. Levy’s X Filme Creative Pool produces.
- “Marie-Antoinette Serial Killer” (“MASK”): This YA fantasy horror thriller series is created and developed by executive producers Beth Tapper, Mitch Watson and Leila Smith (“Find Me in Paris”). Based on the novel “Marie Antoinette Serial Killer” by American author Katie Alender, the 8-part show follows four young American girls on spring break in Paris who find themselves caught up in a mysterious series of murders that quickly becomes very personal. Currently in advanced development, the series is produced by Frances’s Cottonwood Media.
- “A thin line”: This show involves two young “hacktivist” twin sisters on a quest to expose environmental wrongdoing by any means necessary. Produced by German Weydemann Bros.
- “Circeo”: This series, directed by Italian Andrea Molaioli and produced by Rome Cattleya, which is part of ITV Studios, reconstructs the aftermath of the crime known as the ‘Circeo massacre’ that rocked Italy in the 1970s, after two teenage girls were found in the trunk of a car in Rome, naked, wrapped in blankets and soaked of blood.
In an extensive interview with Variety, Ryan presented his global expansion plan.
In the UK, in addition to launching Paramount+ as a standalone, you are also a Sky partner. Paramount has similar partnerships in many territories. This seems to be a key aspect of your strategy.
Yes. We’re taking a similar approach to free, where we’ve launched partnerships that have really accelerated the launch of Pluto in other markets as well. Last month we launched Pluto in the Nordic region with Viaplay Group, formerly known as NENT. And then we just announced that we’re launching in Canada with Corus. This type of approach to working with great local partners ranges from free to paid.
Give me an overview of your deployment plan.
Internationally, as I mentioned, we’re in 30 markets around the world, so we’ve been able to scale very quickly. We developed Pluto and Paramount+ very quickly. I mean, Paramount+ has only launched [in March 2021]and we will be present in 45 markets by the end of the following year . We will have the service in India in 2023. And then we look elsewhere in Asia, Africa and the Middle East. Pluto TV has expanded to dozens of markets in just a few years. And a lot of that is because we have competent teams on the ground that have allowed us to do that.
The stated goal is 100 million subscribers by 2024. What gives Paramount the edge that allows you to set this goal?
We have a differentiated streaming strategy. We’re the only player that really focuses on combining a free and paid streaming strategy, and we think that’s very powerful. I believe “one plus one free and paid equals three” and we are already successfully moving free users from Pluto TV to Paramount+. When ssomeone pulls out of Paramount+, of course we try to keep them and re-enable them. But we’re also promoting Pluto TV to keep them in our streaming ecosystem. In the US, our description of Paramount+ is: live sports, breaking news and a mountain of entertainment. [News is not part of Paramount’s international offer]. And we really want to be that service for the whole household, because when more than one person in the household engages with the service, the lifetime value goes up, the churn goes down. People stay with you longer once you have a second and ideally a third person in the family who starts using Paramount+ as one of their go-to apps for entertainment.
What are your current numbers?
We are at more than 62 million at the end of the last quarter, driven by Paramount+, which alone attracted 6.8 million subscribers in the first quarter. We have teams on the ground in over 30 countries. The plan is to be present in almost 60 markets with more than 60 partners by the end of the year.
Tell me about your content strategy.
Being a global media company with content that truly spans all genres enables us to deliver content from sports to news, kids, movies, reality, scripted and originals. We feel extremely well placed. We feel that we are very well positioned competitively because we’re able to take these different content engines that we have and create content for multiple platforms. Rather than taking content that we create solely for streaming, we are able to monetize that content through various distribution channels. We’re able to take our films, for example, show them theatrically, and then put them on Paramount+. And we’ve had great success with that.
Let’s talk about windowing.
I think about a year ago there was a lot of discussion about what was the right model for streaming movies, aand we were one of the first, if not the first, to bring the 45-day post-theater, which gives a lot of marketing value to the content and helps give it a big theatrical exclusive window, but then quickly brings in streaming. And we’ve had great success with a variety of movies we’ve made that way, most recently “Sonic the Hedgehog 2.” But on a broader level, we are able to monetize the content we create across a variety of distribution channels, from theater and movies to broadcast, cable, TV and streaming.
I doubt the 45-day window applies to Tom Cruise’s ‘Top Gun: Maverick’
No. We haven’t decided on that [the theatrical window for ‘Top Gun: Maverick’] Again.